Let’s give a new generation the work skills they need
The UK is facing a serious skills crisis. Hardly a week goes by without this gracing the headlines. Most recently we’ve seen low levels of skills outside of the capital blamed for the nosedive in productivity. Figures show that this has been Britain’s worst decade for productivity for over 200 years. The skills shortage has had a part to play.
Engineering UK estimates that 1.8m more technicians and engineers will be required by 2025 to meet industry needs. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, also sounded the alarm last week – calling for the North of England to reach its potential. But this is not simply a Northern issue. The skills crisis touches every corner of the UK, and we need to act now if we are to safeguard our competitiveness.
There continues to be a lack of investment in training at work, as a result of cutbacks made during the last recession. However, I believe that intervention is needed at an earlier stage if we are to successfully reduce the skills gap and improve productivity levels in the UK.
It is a story with two sides. On one side, companies are crying out for talent. Skills shortages are costing businesses £2bn a year, according to the Open University, and 82pc of scale-ups report that they could grow their businesses if applicants had the required skills.
But on the other side, young people are not getting the support they need to reach their own potential. The Institute of Directors has reported that more than two thirds of businesses feel secondary schools do not effectively prepare children for the world of work.
Uncertainty around the future of work also means that the next generation needs to be flexible and hold key soft skills if it is to thrive. Yet businesses report that skills such as communication, team working, and time management are sorely lacking among school leavers and graduates.
Increased interactions with the work environment will begin to solve this. The more time students spend in placements before starting their first jobs, the less time employers will have to spend helping them to adjust.
This is why there needs to be greater interaction between educators and businesses. I’ve seen how powerful this can be through Founders4Schools. Introducing the next generation to the working world, by bringing entrepreneurs and business leaders into classrooms up and down the country, is effective. But we need to go one step further because work experience is key.
If the next generation of talent can spend meaningful time in business environments it will help them hit the ground running when they do start full-time work. But the percentage of students accessing quality work experience is dismally low. The current curriculum does not support it, and while two thirds of businesses say work experience is a critical factor in hiring young people, only one third actually offers it, according to the House of Lords select committee on social mobility.
The committee points to another problematic area of work experience. Young people today often source placements for themselves – relying on the networks of family and friends. This puts many at a disadvantage.
Founders4Schools set out to gain a better understanding of the work experience landscape in the UK. We spoke to schools and businesses around the country, and the findings confirmed our belief that the current model is broken.
This research carried out by the Cambridge Judge Business School found that only 63pc of businesses have offered work experience in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, over half of the schools reported placing less than three quarters of their students, and 14pc stated that none of their students secured work placements in the past year.
As an investor and founder of the ScaleUp Institute, I know there are legions of exciting, growth companies across the UK who would relish tapping into and helping to create a pipeline of talent. But these companies are not always front of mind when teachers and parents are guiding young people’s work experience choices, and they often don’t have the resources to market themselves.
The problem is clear, but how do we solve it? Fittingly, our inspiration came from a work experience student. Maitri Panchal was on a placement with Founders4Schools and, having enjoyed herself, suggested that there should be a service to rate work experience. This sparked an idea: there should be an app for that. But not simply a service to rate work experience but to also find and apply for opportunities.
Through existing partnerships with the likes of LinkedIn and DueDil, Founders4Schools is able to access comprehensive intelligence on companies across the country. And so Workfinder was born.
It is a tool for young people to explore great growth companies and find opportunities. It will allow them to discover the working world on their own terms. At an event at the Crick Institute last night, we launched the platform with a call to action for business leaders everywhere to join us and offer the next generation meaningful pathways into work.
With the support of ambitious businesses, we can create equal opportunities for young people in every corner of the UK. Because if we enable the next generation of talent, we enable the next generation of businesses too.
‘Engineering UK estimates 1.8m more technicians and engineers will be required by 2025 to meet industry needs’